As vaccine supply struggles to meet demand, grassroots social media groups known as “vaccine hunters” have sprung up all over the country, helping people find and book appointments. As helpful as these groups can be, they’ve also become the new favorite target for scammers. Here’s how you can protect yourself.
How vaccine hunter scams work
As many states have failed to provide centralized information on exactly where you could get a vaccine booking, vaccine hunter groups have stepped in to fill the gap. These groups informally share information about where you might be able to snag an appointment, whether on county healthcare sites, pharmacy websites, informal pharmacy standby lists, or individual hospital waiting lists. In a spirit of goodwill, people in these groups often help (typically elderly) strangers book vaccine appointments on their behalf.
Unfortunately, this is where scammers jump in. Posing as good samaritans, scammers will ask for your personal information, and try to sell bogus vaccine appointments or vaccines. The Better Business Bureau has put out an alert warning people about the scam, and offers these tips for avoiding cons while finding a vaccine appointment:
- Always go through official public health channels and approved providers to get a vaccine appointment. In the US, COVID-19 vaccines are only available through official providers, such as your local public health department or a pharmacy. The exact providers differ by region, but you can find the list for your area using VaccineFinder.org. Aggregation sites should always point you to the official providers to schedule your appointment.
- Anyone claiming to sell vaccine doses is a scam. Be wary of anyone who claims to have doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. This report from Digital Citizens Alliance found scam Facebook pages advertising vaccines made in China. While the pages didn’t actively promote sales of the drug, the scammers offered to sell the phony vaccine after being contacted through Facebook Messenger.
- Don’t pay to add your name to a waiting list or to get the vaccine. The BBB Scam Tracker has received reports about con artists charging for fake vaccine appointments. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States. Vaccine providers cannot charge you for the vaccine. Any claim otherwise is a scam.
- Be very careful about giving out personal information. You don’t need your bank account details, credit card information, or Social Security number to schedule a vaccine appointment.
- Always double check the URL before entering personal information. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Be careful that the link is really what it claims to be. If the message claims to be from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov (for the United States). When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website or call the source directly.
- Research offers carefully. Scammers are very creative, so be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true. Double check any information about the vaccine with official news sources.
If you’ve spotted a scam, report it on BBB.org/ScamTracker.